Since the 1990s, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) has protected Americans from unwanted telemarketing communications. Amended several times to account for changing technology (and to create the National Do-Not-Call Registry more than 10 years ago), the TCPA continues to struggle to keep up with today’s technologies and changing multichannel communications media. In addition, companies continue to struggle to comply with the increasingly complex governance of the law itself.
During a recent webinar sponsored by Interactive Intelligence entitled, “The Pitfalls of TCPA and Its Impact on Your Business: Up-Selling, Telemarketing & Collections,” Mike Bevel, Editor of InsideARM; Martha Buyer, TCPA Consultant; and Interactive Intelligence Product Manager Chad McCormick discussed what the TCPA means to contact centers and sales organizations today, and how they can abide by the TCPA while still maximizing performance.
One of the major problems companies today have with the TCPA is the proliferation of cell phones and homes that use cell phones exclusively. Since the TCPA creates two tiers of regulations – one for landlines and one for mobile phones – it’s critical that companies understand these rules, given the stakes for non-compliance, which can run between $500 and $1,500 per communication (call or even a single text).
That said, there are many benefits for contact centers when consumers increasingly use their mobile phones. Connection rates for mobile phones are two to three times better than cell phones, since people generally keep their phones close by (unlike their landlines), and marketers have a much better chance of making a right party contact, since mobile phones generally aren’t shared (also unlike landlines). It’s also about human nature.
“Curiosity definitely makes people answer the phone when it’s right by their side,” said Chad McCormick. “I’ve found that in my experience in measuring contact rates, that even if folks did not pick up the cell phone, we found an alarming number of people who would call us right back, due to that curiosity factor.”
The trick, of course, is you need to remain within the boundaries of the TCPA and not annoy your customers. While some organizations have looser rules to follow – non-profits, political calls, surveys and alerts to existing customers – those looking to use outbound telemarketing with consumers must be very careful. This is particularly an issue since amendments to the law wiped out the “existing business relationship” exemption from the TCPA. In other words, since October of last year, it’s no longer enough that a customer has done business with your organization before.
Companies must now have express written consent from a customer to send an automated outbound call (“robocalls”) to a landline, and must also have explicit written consent to send robocalls or use a dialer to place a call to a wireless phone. Furthermore, a customer providing a cell phone on a form is NOT considered express consent, and companies must maintain a record of this written consent for at least a year.
To remain compliant, companies must ensure (for starters) that they can tell the difference between landlines and mobile phones. List scrubbing services come in handy here, and they can also prevent companies (or third party telemarketers) from calling numbers on do-not-call lists. Attaining prior written consent is an even trickier prospect: there are issues afoot regarding how consent must be obtained (for example, are electronic signatures acceptable?) that may not be settled until pending legal judgments are handed down.
Whatever your methods to ensure compliance, it’s critical that you do so. Class-action lawsuits against outbound marketers are on the rise (some lawyers seem to make careers out of TCPA violations alone) and government agencies such as the FCC and the FTC seem quite happy to hand out huge fines to violators.